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    Categories: Local News

Visitor centre sees fewer people

Tourism on the rise
Tourism in national parks has been on the rise thanks to free admission in celebration of Canada’s 150th.

Highway traffic to Banff has increased by 3.2 per cent compared to the first six months of 2016.
– Highway traffic to Jasper has increased by 2.9 per cent compared to the first six months of 2016.
– Highway traffic to Waterton Lakes has increased by 14.9 per cent compared to the first six months of 2016.
– Highway traffic to Elk Island has increased by 46.1 per cent compared to the first six months of 2016.
– Due to wildfires in the area, highway traffic to Wood Buffalo has decreased by 34.3 per cent compared to the first six months of 2016.

When it opened in 2014 a rush of residents and tourists seeped into the foyer. Today, the St. Albert Visitor Welcome Centre sees only a trickle of its former foot traffic inside the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce building.

Jennifer McCurdy, president and CEO of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce, said while there may be fewer visits to the centre, that doesn’t mean tourism has slowed.

The mobile visitor tents that they set up at events like Rock ’n August, the St. Albert Farmers’ Market and the Lifestyle Expo have seen an increase in visitors.

“We’ve already surpassed last year’s total summer,” she says.

This year there were 2,500 visitors, up from the entire summer of 2016 and 2015 when there were 2,000 visitors.

On Canada Day alone 900 people visited one of the mobile tents. McCurdy says they get a wide variety of people asking questions.

“We get people from all over the world, but we also have residents that have relatives coming in and they want to know what they can do with them,” she says.

The centre has 50 different brochures on St. Albert, 50 brochures on Edmonton and the surrounding area and about 115 brochures on Alberta.

“One of our most popular brochures is the camping guide,” she says. “People will start calling us in spring asking us if it’s arrived and it goes quite quickly.”

Since 2015 visits at the St. Albert Visitor Welcome Centre have been declining. In 2015 there were 350 visitors from outside St. Albert and surrounding areas, in 2016 there were 270 visitors from outside the city and surrounding areas and this year only 150 visitors have stopped at the centre.

Prior to 2014 the centre was operating out of the city’s economic development department.

Since the centre moved to the chamber, visitors are now welcomed by a friendly face ready to answer questions. They’ll learn what’s happening in St. Albert and what sights they should see.

Grace Sroka, visitor welcome centre ambassador, is one of those friendly faces. She says each day she talks with people from across the country and even across the world.

For example on Thursday Sroka started her day by providing information to a couple from Hong Kong.

“They wanted to know where all the nice parks were, they wanted to know where to park by the river,” she says.

Sroka says she loves meeting new people from different parts of the world and admits that she sometimes has to answer some odd questions.

“Someone came in with a picture of a mountain from Alaska and they wanted to know the name of the mountain,” she laughs. “They took it on the side of the highway, but I was able to find the mountain, the name and the height.”

This year tourism across Alberta has been on the rise, possibly due to free admission into national parks in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.

According to Tourism Alberta, flights to Edmonton and Calgary in June increased by around three per cent from this time last year. Highway traffic has increased by about five per cent.

 

Dayla Lahring: Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.